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Midnight Serenade

Our final night on the river mooring at Stratford was a disturbed one. Strange really, since our two nights in the basin had been quite peaceful and the last thing that we expected was to have any sort of disturbance next to the park. We went to bed as usual and then at around half eleven could hear two people sitting talking on one of the park benches. Nothing wrong with that, annoying but it’s a free country. The conversation continued for an hour and then the pair moved off. Just as we were drifting off, we were treated to the drunken strains of some song or other and although we hoped that the songster would move on, it seemed that he had taken a liking to the bench too. The singing stopped and we assumed that the would-be X Factor contestant had moved on but a few minutes later he found his second wind and burst into song again. We groaned and hoped for an early reprieve, sure enough the singing stopped a few minutes later – maybe peace at last?
Two minutes later and we felt the tell-tale movement that alerted us to the fact that someone had stepped on to the boat. There was no other course of action; lights on, clothes on, out on the back deck and with torch in hand, I found a young man sitting on the park bench looking rather sheepish. He was very apologetic and promised to move on which, in fairness he did and so silence finally fell on the vicinity of our mooring.

We awoke early the following morning, despite the fact that we hadn’t had much sleep. It was a short hop to the water point for us where we filled the tank and completed the last of our services. At first glance, Stratford isn’t very boater friendly when it comes to the essential services, especially if the boater is not going on to the river. There is a CRT bin compound between Bancroft basin and Cox’s yard, not mentioned in the guides and not well signed but it is there if you look for it. Elsan facilities are available at Stratford marina if you don’t mind carting a cassette across the main road, past the hotel and down to the marina where it costs £2 for the keys to lift the manhole. Water is only available on the river but it’s not impossible to slip down through the lock, grab a tankful and return to CRT waters if you’re not licenced. We are licenced of course and although we think that we’ll only be on the river for a couple of weeks, we paid for a 30 day licence just in case we need it.

Stratford upon Avon

This is the third time we have visited Stratford by boat but we’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been here by road – it’s only forty minutes away by car!

We had two nights in the basin followed by a couple of nights moored on the river and during the days, joined the thousands of tourists who flock to the town every day. We didn’t do anything too exciting, in fact it was only our exit from the basin that was of any note. The length of the boat next to us and the trip boat behind us meant that I had to swing the bow away from the lock but then rather than turn at the top of the basin, I thought it easier to reverse into the lock and descend on to the river. Julian on nb Jolly Lamb who was waiting to join us in the lock was quite amused by this but all went well and we were soon tying up against the opposite bank.

The Garrick Inn

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Half timbered houses

More timber frames

Caxton opposite the theatre

The view from our river mooring.

Caxton’s backside is just visible on the left bank.

On our final day, we walked along the canal towpath and found two boats below the lock that had caused us trouble and six boats queuing between the locks above. Meanwhile CaRT were in between trying to scrape silt from behind the bottom gate, a job that might have been better tackled during the winter rather than the second week in June.

Clearing silt from the lock.

A tricky end

With only five locks and two miles to cover, we timed our start to reach Bancroft basin between 10.30 and 11.00. We achieved our goal but it wasn’t all plain sailing. Our first job was to move the few hundred yards to the nearest water point and that was straightforward although the tap was slow and the tank was low so it took a while. While we filled, we watched the Anglo Welsh boat that had been moored behind us, pull into the side and then get stuck on the bottom. Fortunately enough, another boater was walking the towpath and he helped to get them afloat again but it seemed to take a lot of effort. This was happening about two hundred yards away so we couldn’t work out what the problem was. Once freed, the crew passed us and made their way to the lock. When we arrived ten or so minutes later, they seemed to be puzzling over what to do but knowing that they had worked the same eleven locks that we had the day before, we thought that there must have been something wrong with the lock. It turned out that the bottom gate had swung open and this had confused them. Andy and Shona were first time hirers and had been given no lock tuition at the base. They had been fortunate to benefit from other boaters helping them the day before as they worked down the Wilmcote flight. They insisted that we should go ahead as they didn’t want to hold us up so we accepted their offer and after we exited the lock, Sue helped to reset it and made sure that they were confident enough to keep going on their own.

The remaining four locks were a bit of a nightmare; the bottom gate on the first didn’t open fully so that involved a bit of a scrape through for Caxton. The next is built close to a road bridge and so one of the balance beams has a right angle built into it but it really could do with being a bit longer. Luckily for Sue a crew member from a boat coming up had appeared and told her that he would work the lock while she moved on to the next. I then watched the tall, thirty-something-year-old man as he struggled with the paddle first and then the gate. The third lock was alright but we got stuck as we passed through the bottom gate of the final chamber. In the end, our only means of escape was to leave Caxton in gear while I climbed up and added extra weight to the balance beam. Once clear, we edged into Bancroft basin and found a space to tie up.

Bancroft Basin

That was enough boating excitement for us for one day so we showered and got ready to walk into town. As we left the boat, Andy and Shona’s boat appeared under the bridge so we waved them towards another empty berth. By the time we had walked around the edge of the basin, we could see that they were having trouble. They were up against the wall where the trip boat normally ties up and just seemed to be moving back and forth without changing direction. There was only one thing to be done

, we asked them if they would like some help and a moment later, I was reversing their boat across the basin and into the safety of a vacant berth. I made it look easy but it was all luck, for once the wind blew just right for me and the flow towards the Avon lock pulled us around in a beautiful arc.

Then we went into town!


The next part of our trip was a very easy cruise down to Wilmcote although there was the small matter of two aqueducts to negotiate, over the road at Wootton Wawen and the longest aqueduct in England, the Edstone which crosses a road and a railway line.

Edstone aqueduct

Three miles and just one lock brought us to a lovely mooring which was only a ten minute walk from the village. We’ve been here before of course but we took the time to walk past Mary Arden’s house and into the village.

Mary Arden’s House

Mary Arden’s House

There’s not a lot to see in Wilmcote despite the fact that the open top sight seeing bus passes through there on a regular basis.

On Friday, we caught the train into Stratford upon Avon, a seven minute trip costing £2.60 return for us both.

Wilmcote Station

We alighted the train and walked along the canal towpath so that we could check out potential moorings. There isn’t really anything until the moorings outside the Red Lion which is just outside Bancroft basin. As we walked along there, we saw nb City Slicker and who was walking along the towpath but its skipper, Dennis. Tentatively we made arrangements to meet with him and his friend, John later in the day. We carried on our walk into and around the basin where we noted that there were still a few spaces and that the river level was in the amber zone. Our amble took us up through the town and into the market which stands on a Friday and Saturday. After perusing the wares in the market we partook of some coffee in Patisserie Valerie before returning to the canalside where we dragged Dennis and John from their boat and made them drink beer in the garden of the Red Lion.

It’s not very often that we come across people who are on the same wavelength as ourselves but these boys are good company so we passed a couple of hours with them in the pub garden.

Eventually we had to leave and with the intention of a short shopping stop at Morrisons in our minds, we set off in the afternoon sunshine. By the time we reached the superstore, we had decided to grab something to eat in the café there. Sadly, Morrisons have not improved over the years and the shopping experience there is still poor so we left hungry and empty handed. Our next port of call at the railway station where we knew that there is a café. When we reached the café we discovered that it has no seats or tables so we left there and walked back towards the town centre. Luckily enough, the Old Thatch Tavern provided us with an evening meal, not exactly what we had intended but it turned out to be really good and well worth the money. With the grub guzzled, we paid the bill and walked back to the station where we caught our train back to Wilmcote and then walked back along the towpath to our mooring.

Mooring at Wilmcote

Ditchcrawling again

Yesterday evening after dinner we took a walk along the river bank to the bridge, crossed it and walked along the other side, past the theatre and stopped at The Dirty Duck for a drink. A fellow patron turned out to be the actor, Charles Dance.

This morning brought some welcome blue skies and although we were in two minds as to whether we should stay another day, decided to move off the river and start our climb out of the Avon valley. After making a short stop for water, Sue walked off to set the lock that would lift us off the river and into Bancroft Basin while I picked my way through some early morning rowers. As soon as we reached the first lock after the basin, we realised that we were probably following another boat meaning that until we met someone coming down, we would have to drain every chamber before we could enter it. After five locks we caught the boat in front who had stopped to dump his rubbish, we wanted to do the same so Sue hopped off at the bridge with the bin bags. As I started to draw level with the aforementioned boat’s skipper (Derek as we later found out) asked if he could could go ahead as his friend had gone ahead to set the next lock. I wasn’t happy about the request but figured that with so many locks it didn’t make much difference and that I didn’t want to be hounded by an impatient boater. Sue had other ideas and told Derek as he passed that if she had been driving Caxton, she would not have let him pass.

When we reached the next lock, Derek was holding his boat on the bank and offered to let us go first but explained that he was travelling with another. We insisted that he should carry on and that we would follow him. Sue then walked up to the lock with him, they had a conversation, “hugged it out” and made friends. While this was going on, another narrowboat, “James Arthur” appeared behind us. Anyway, over the next couple of hours we all helped each other up through the locks in the sunshine. By the time we reached Wootton Wawen, Derek was on the bank waving frantically to indicate that there was a space big enough for us. As it turned out it was a little short but the crew of the boat in front of him and just behind us were on a lunch stop and about to move off so within a few minutes we were tied to the bank thanks to Sue and her new best friend Derek.

We took a walk to the local farm shop and craft centre where we bumped into, of all people, Kerry Katona! We’ve no idea why she should be there but Sue went to speak to her and of course gave her a hug. She was really nice, friendly and down to earth, a lovely girl despite what the media sometimes report.

We then wandered down to the village and visited The Bulls Head in the village before returning via the local shop and The Navigation Inn which is adjacent to the basin in which we are moored.

We ended the afternoon with tuna steaks, dauphinois potatoes and mixed vegetables for dinner.

17 locks in about 6 miles today, below is tonight’s mooring.

Familiar Weather Patterns

We were last in Stratford (by boat) in June 2012 and the similarities in the weather are astounding, maybe it’s just that type of place!

The rain battered down between 1am and 2am but otherwise we had a peaceful night on our riverside mooring. It was nine o’clock by the time we got up, showered and dressed; Sue did some boat tidying and I made yet another attempt to sort out my laptop which had been messed up with the windows 10 upgrade. We were both successful in our tasks so just after midday when the rain had eased, we walked into town. I still needed to run some windows updates but was concerned about the amount of mobile data their downloading would use up. Sue suggested that I could take the laptop to the local Wetherspoons where I could use the free wifi. I was torn, what a dilemna! Sitting in Wetherspoons on my own would obviously mean that I would have to forego the treat of traipsing around the shops but Sue was insistent so I made the sacrifice and sat in the pub for an hour.

My work was almost finished by the time Sue returned so we had a bite to eat before we left.

Much ado about nothing.

The “nothing” being the forecast rain. Faced with a day of light rain today followed by a day of heavy stuff on Friday, we decided to brave the elements and try and get to Stratford and batten down the hatches for the impending storm. We untied at seven o’clock and made our way past all of the moored boats on our way to Evesham lock; the bottom gates were open for us but we made a service stop first. This was to be the only lock of the day in our favour although we did manage to share many with other boats. The rain never came except for a five minute period of spots blowing in the wind as we made our way upstream. As we rose in the penultimate lock we could see a small grp hire cruiser bobbing around outside the top gates. By the time we were ready to exit the lock, the wine swigging crew of three females had tied their craft in such a way that it was partially blocking our exit. Ordinarily, this would not have been a problem but on exiting the lock there is a sharp left hand turn requiring space for the stern to swing into. They ignored requests to move, declaring that there was plenty of room. The skipper of the other narrowboat even got off his boat to try and get them to turn through ninety degrees, explaining that there would be little contest in a collision between them and a 22 ton steel boat. They drove across our paths to the opposite lock landing and as we passed were still trying to justify themselves and their actions. Sue tried to tell them that it was for their own safety but only got an “Eff off” in response – very ladylike! We didn’t see them again, perhaps they went to explore the weir.

Our lock buddies were also intent on getting a riverside mooring to sit out the storm and happily enough we were both successful in securing the last two available spaces, quite an achievement given that it was by that time almost four o’clock. As we saw in Evesham yesterday, the evening river traffic is given over to the local rowing club.

As for the weather, the forecasters are now puzzling over how they could have been so wrong, let’s see what tomorrow really brings – perhaps they’ve got that one wrong too (fingers crossed!).

Tonight’s view from Caxton